United has offered up an innovative new spin on cashing in frequent flier miles: “Weekend Saver” discounts. But is it worth spending your miles on this?
The concept is essentially the same as their e-fares: For last-minute reservations on flights from their hub cities, you pay less than the normal walkup rate. Your travel dates are limited, and you never know more than a week or two in advance which cities will be in the mix. It’s all determined by supply and demand.
For cash fares, this can be a good deal if your travel plans align with the e-fare rules (typically a Saturday departure and a Monday or Tuesday return). But for fares “paid” with miles, the discount isn’t as enthralling. You’re getting a discount on the mileage cost, but the product you’re buying is already discounted.
For example, the e-fare for Chicago to Los Angeles this coming weekend is $135 each way, plus taxes. (That comes to $291.40) The Weekend Saver fare: 19,000 miles, instead of the typical “saver” rate of 25,000 miles. That comes to about 1.5 cents per mile. That’s better than the 1.1 cents per mile you’d be getting if paying 25k miles, but it’s still not great value. But if you’re in a gotta-go, low-on-cash but miles-rich state, this could come in handy.
Nonetheless, it’s nice to see an airline offering discounts.
Business class fare sales are like clockwork, at least in the northern hemisphere: You’ll see one fare sale for mid-summer travel, and one for December. In both cases, business travel slows significantly as people take time off and spend it with family. In both cases, airlines respond (often proactively) by slashing business class fares.
Take Continental’s latest fare sale to Europe, for example. It’s notable for being early. Summer isn’t over yet, and we’re seeing late summer and early winter biz sales.
The fares are solid, such as $1272 from Newark to London roundtrip, $1370 to Paris, or $1420 to Frankfurt.
- Depart November 21 through 27, 2010, returning November 25 through December 1, 2010.
- Depart December 20, 2010 through January 7, 2011, returning December 24, 2010 through January 13, 2011.
The fine print has both good news and bad news. Bad news: fuel surcharges. Good news: You can fly airlines other than Continental, such as Lufthansa. (Continental is rolling out upgraded flat seats in their “BusinessFirst” class, but the rollout is far from complete as of this writing.)
Fares listed do not include fuel surcharge. Round-trip travel required. Advance purchase of at least 21 days required and must be ticketed within 72 hours of booking. A minimum three-night stay is required. Fares are nonrefundable and require a $400 change fee. Not combinable with any other fares. Other restrictions apply. Offers are only valid for flights on Continental, Air Canada, Lufthansa and United. December travel period excludes flights to Bristol, Delhi, Mumbai and Tel Aviv.
Continental may be early on this, but other airlines are bound to follow suit. And there’s always the all-premium class OpenSkies connection from Newark or DC to Paris, which is currently running $1530 roundtrip fares, but that’s likely to go lower as we enter fall…
Every year, around this time, there’s a nearly-simultaneous sale on multiple airlines, with discounts for business class airfares across the oceans. It’s as predictable as the Rockettes’ act. (There will be high-kicking.)
Blame seasonality. Beyond the economic slowdown that’s killed premium-cabin traffic, there’s the seasonal slowdown, as business travel grinds to a halt near year-end. What this means for the leisure traveler is premium class deals in premium economy, business class, and first.
Most of the deals are to Europe. Very few deals target Asia. There are a handful of deals to Australia, too, but they’re not the best I’ve seen.
Sure, even the discounted premium seats will still cost you more than a coach seat. But there are some decent prices nonetheless.
Compare a roundtrip in coach from New York to Paris for $858, all-in, on American, with a $1415 fare for the same dates on OpenSkies, the British Airways subsidiary operating an all-premium configuration. (The quoted fare is for a cradle seat, which they call “BizSeat,” vs. their lie-flat “BizBed” product. It’s arguably a high-end premium economy seat, or a low-end business class seat.)
Or Continental’s BusinessFirst sale: Houston to London for $2087 all-in, vs. $1096 for the same flights in coach.
Or check out Lufthansa, which is running specials to a range of European destinations from each of the US cities where it has nonstop departures to Frankfurt or Munich. Cities that don’t see regular fare sales, like Charlotte, get a little love thrown their way, though it’s not quite as generous as the discounts New Yorkers get. (E.g., Charlotte to Amsterdam for $2278 all-in, vs. $1099 for the same flights in coach.)
These flights would cost thousands more at other times of the year.
But not all airlines are playing along. I test-drove Virgin Atlantic Upper Class fares, and I wasn’t impressed at all. Over $3000 for a flight from New York to London? That’s hardly a sale.
Bottom line: If you haven’t booked international travel around the holidays, don’t neglect to search for business class fares. You may find a deal.
Qantas is running a promo for travel between the US and Australia: Around $970 all-in round trip (that’s $399 each way, including fuel surcharges, plus taxes) for flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco to major Australian hubs, and including a free stopover in New Zealand.
The free stopover is what really makes this a good deal.
Too bad the business class seats aren’t similarly discounted. ($15,260 for business class, for one person on the same dates. I don’t think so.)
Flights are only available at those rates for travel between May 1 and June 8, 2010. A narrow window of opportunity, but potentially worthwhile, especially with that free stopover thrown in.
Be careful when booking that you choose “red tail” flights, not Jetstar, their no-frill discount carrier. The flights are the same price, but the amenities are more generous on the mainline Qantas flights.
Maddening, though: Though you can tack on a domestic US flight to the fare for generally-reasonable rates (i.e., ~$220 additional for the roundtrip from Newark), the Qantas website makes it nearly impossible to book if you’re not leaving from a short list of cities. And that list is odd: Monterey is on the list, but Charlotte and Raleigh aren’t? Flagstaff is included, but Milwaukee isn’t? Seems like a webpage makeover is in order.
Since the world has gone ga-ga for Twitter, corporations have been trying to figure out how to take advantage of the popularity of the micro-blogging service. Some airlines are trying out Twitter-only discounted airfares to fill seats. (United calls them “Twares.” JetBlue calls theirs “Cheeps.” I’m sure there are others, but it’s still not the norm for airlines to offer these.)
But these deep discounts come with fine print. This past Friday, USA Today’s Ben Mutzabaugh posted that United’s most recent $118 all-in Tware between Chicago and Philadelphia didn’t earn Mileage Plus miles. Comments started rolling in, protesting the change — these were published fares, after all, why wouldn’t they earn miles?
These fares last only a short time — typically two or three hours — and the fare’s terms and conditions are no longer visible online.
I asked for clarification. Specifically, I tweeted for clarification. I asked United, in under 140 characters:
Within an hour, their response:
Not an encyclopedic answer, but this much is clear: All Twares are not created equal. Some are normal deep discount fares, much like weekend e-fares. Others aren’t. Another layer of complication in the airfare and frequent flyer game.
If miles matter to you, and if Twitter-only fares are up your alley, then you’ll need to read the fine print before you click the purchase button.
(See update at bottom)
United Airlines is running a 20% off — or more — “sale” on Mileage Plus Saver Awards for travel between August 18 through November 18.
Saver Awards only, not Standard. Economy class only, not first or business. United or United Express only, not Star Alliance partners. But if those conditions meet your needs, and the dates work, go ahead and burn some miles at favorable rates.
(Updated) That means 20,000 miles for a domestic ticket (instead of 25,000). 30K miles for a mainland to Hawaii ticket (instead of 40K). 25K to the Caribbean, 44K to Europe, 50K to Asia, and 64K to Australia. It’s almost like rolling their redemption chart back in time…
Will American, Delta, and others match? Stay tuned!
Hat tip to Gary Leff for this.
UPDATE: Now that it’s been leaked all over the internet, United puts up a link. Book between July 15 and July 24, 2009.
UPDATE 2: The sale is even better than originally posted. 20% and up discounts. E.g., flights to Hawaii are 30K instead of 32K as posted earlier. 25% off Hawaii, 28.5% off Caribbean, 23% off Asia. Nice sale. Original post is corrected to reflect correct #s.